Both Spring Grove powerlifters came back from a disappointing start to post personal-record performances at the national championships in Denver.

High school junior Caleb Happel, competing on the varsity level, accomplished a personal-best 250 kilograms (551.15 pounds) with his deadlift.

Sophomore Harrison Speltz, competing in the junior varsity division, recorded a pair of personal records with a bench press of 120 kg (264.6 lbs.) and a deadlift of 205 kg (451.9 lbs.).

To their additional credit, both athletes rose to those heights after the devastation of not receiving a score on their squat, the first of the three competitive events.

Ironically, both thought they had completed a successful squat only to have the judge rule otherwise. Later after reviewing the videos, they felt their efforts had complied with the requirements, but there is no appeal. The decision of the judges is final.

Not completing any of the three required lifts eliminates a lifter from medal consideration.

In his weight class, Speltz had the second best bench press and the third best deadlift among the seven qualifying for nationals.

In a weight class of 15 lifters, Happel had the third best bench and the third best deadlift.

Their coach and Caleb's mother, Jean Happel, said, "Even without the heavier equipment that other lifters have, we can still compete, and we can still beat them."

In addition to the highs and lows of competition, the boys enjoyed some impressive sights and experiences on the trip west. They embarked by car on April 3 for Denver where Speltz competed on April 5 and Happel on April 7.

The intervening day was spent at the Denver Zoo in beautiful 70-degree weather. "It was an incredible experience," exclaimed coach Happel.

"The zoo was enormous," she added noting separate rainforest and desert areas along with a section for animals near extinction. "The area for the elephant exhibit alone was 10 acres.

"It was a great trip to the zoo, but exhausting. We didn't think the thinner air was affecting us until then. It makes a tremendous difference."

Another highlight was the view of the Rocky Mountains from their hotel room window.

The long drive was interrupted with a visit to a huge 85,000 square foot Cabella's store in Nebraska.

Much of the drive west was at night, but daylight exposed the amazingly vast expanse of both farm fields and cattle feed lots on the Great Plains.

The athletes hope this trip to nationals will just be their first with a goal of a 2014 trip to Texas.

Coach Happel again wanted to express the appreciation of the boys and their coaches for all of the support they received from the community of Spring Grove including the Athletic Boosters, the Commercial Club and those that purchased Spring Grove discount cards and food at the basketball tournament.

"Without you and your support, we would not have made it to Colorado," she said.

Happel felt the boys represented Spring Grove exceptionally well, pointing out, "We have the only athletes that shook the hands of the judges upon completion of their lifts."